Maike Hickson

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New book on Pope Francis’ election reveals the main kingmakers

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April 12, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Gerard O'Connell's new book The Election of Pope Francis, based on many sources, describes in detail the time from the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI up until shortly after the election of Pope Francis. This study also confirms the key role played by some “kingmakers,” especially Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, but also Walter Kasper and Oscar Maradiaga. Most importantly, O'Connell reveals for the first time that there was a private meeting on the eve before the conclave, at which the supporters of Bergoglio realized that he had a real chance of becoming the next Pope.

The Election of Pope Francis – which will be released on May 3 – is a detailed sort of diary, in which O'Connell describes the atmosphere of that 30-day period – 11 February-13 March 2013 – and how the cardinals, caught off guard by Benedict's unexpected resignation, tried to discern whom they could and should elect. The author adds information to this diary that he later learned from many different sources since that historic 13 March 2013, when the Argentine prelate Jorge Bergoglio was elected Pope. O'Connell, as the husband of the Argentine journalist Elisabetta Piqué and as a personal friend of the current Pope, has had an especially good access to sources. Bergoglio also baptized two of his children, and he met with the O'Connell family just ahead of the conclave. O'Connell is the Rome Correspondent for the Jesuit magazine America having Father James Martin, S.J. as editor at large.

Based on published and private sources, O'Connell describes how until the conclave, neither the cardinals themselves, nor the media and general public, saw one single candidate standing out, as had been the case in 2005 with Joseph Ratzinger. None of the more prominent candidates – Cardinals Angelo Scola, Odilo Scherer, and Marc Ouellet – seemed to have sufficient support.

While O'Connell insists, by quoting several sources – among them the involved cardinals themselves –  that Jorge Bergoglio had not given his consent to the work of the group called “Team Bergoglio” (Cardinals Godfried Danneels, Walter Kasper, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, and Karl Lehmann), he still describes the work of some of them in detail. O'Connell suggests that the term "Team Bergoglio" might not be correct.

As can be seen, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor played one of the leading roles in promoting the election of Jorge Bergoglio ahead of the conclave. Murphy-O’Connor himself, having passed the age of 80, was not able to participate in the election itself, but in his last intervention during the General Congregations (secret pre-conclave assemblies of cardinals) in the days leading up to the conclave starting on 4 March he reminded the 115 electors that the next Pope could very well come from the Americas. He told his fellow cardinals: “We need a pope who goes out to the world, and not just one who is looking in on the situation in the Church,” adding that “if you don't see a candidate here in Europe, don't be afraid to go to another continent, to cross the Atlantic to the Americas […] and don't let age be a barrier to your choice.” As O'Connell puts it: “Many understood he was referring to Bergoglio.”

As the author explains, during this time period of thirty days, there took place “informal gatherings of cardinals” at different locations in Rome, “far from the public eye. Some of these gatherings proved decisive in moving the 115 cardinal electors in conclave to elect the first-ever Jesuit pope.” In the public discussions, however, Jorge Bergoglio did not play much of a role. Even though he had been one of the favorite candidates in 2005, he had turned already 76, was ready for retirement, and thus for many no longer a candidate. As O'Connell describes it, the so-called Sankt Gallen Group had “decided to support him in the [2005] election.” At that time, Cardinal Carlo Martini – who died in 2012 – led the group of progressivist cardinals, among them Godfried Danneels, Walter Kasper, Karl Lehmann, Murphy-O’Connor, Basil Hume and Achille Silvestrini. They had a final meeting at Silvestrini's apartment on the eve of the 2005 conclave that then proved to be unsuccessful for them. “This conclave tells us that the Church is not yet ready for a Latin American pope!” was then the comment of Cardinal Danneels.

In 2013, some of them tried it again. They again met on the eve of the conclave, on 11 March, this time in Cardinal Attilio Nicora's apartment. We shall later come back to this “crucial meeting of cardinals,” as O'Connell puts it.

However, O'Connell claims “there was not even the semblance of a campaign” – also due to the short period of time between the sudden resignation of Benedict and the new conclave – and he also calls “incredible” Austen Ivereigh's claim that the four Cardinals of the “Team Bergoglio” – Danneels, Murphy-O’Connor, Kasper, and Lehmann – “had obtained Bergoglio's prior consent” for such a campaign. Bergoglio did not give his consent, O'Connell says, nor did the four cardinals campaign for him. “There was no such campaign,” Murphy-O’Connor told him. Ivereigh retracted the statement about Bergoglio's consent after it created a firestorm.

How this set of claims is to be reconciled with the other proposed facts that O'Connell now describes in his book in detail is left up to the reader's own final assessment.

As O'Connell says, Murphy-O’Connor had made up his mind on Bergoglio already in 2001, when the Argentine prelate played a significant role during the Synod of Bishops on the role of bishops. “Immediately after the conclusion of the synod, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor told me, 'You should watch this man!' It was clear that he had put the archbishop of Buenos Aires on his short list of papabili to succeed the Polish pope [John Paul II].”

Later in the book, O'Connell himself describes Murphy-O’Connor as a possible “kingmaker”: “Cardinal Cormac – as he is popularly known – may not be an elector at this conclave but, given his network of contacts in the Vatican and worldwide, he could be one of the kingmakers.”

Explaining the word “kingmaker,” O'Connell says later when describing private gatherings of cardinals ahead of the conclave: “It is in these small groups that certain cardinals, known as 'kingmakers', can play a highly important role in promoting or gathering support for a candidate.”

Such “kingmakers” were to be found in 2013, according to O'Connell. He makes out several of them, among them: Cardinals Sodano and Battista Re on the one side, and on the other Cardinals Maradiaga and Murphy-O’Connor, “who has many friends not only in the Roman Curia, but also in Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa.”

What the distinction is between “kingmakers” and a “campaign” might not be so clear, and most probably not even for many journalists in Rome. Because a campaign as such is forbidden by the Church's law. According to the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis, “Cardinal electors shall further abstain from any form of pact, agreement, promise or other commitment of any kind which could oblige them to give or deny their vote to a person or persons.” Such conduct would bring down upon the violator the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae. The “exchange of views concerning the election,” however, is permitted.

As O'Connell explains to LifeSiteNews in an e-mail, “Such pre-conclave gatherings of like-minded cardinals have been a normal practice in all the 20th and 21st centuries, and I expect also of future conclaves.”

Such a meeting of cardinals took place, for example, when Cardinals Bergoglio and Murphy-O’Connor met on 1 March, three days ahead of the pre-conclave General Congregations. They both knew each other since February 2001, when they both were made cardinals by Pope John Paul II. During the 2005 conclave, they happened to sit together, along with three other cardinals, two of whom O'Connell identifies in an e-mail to LifeSiteNews as Policarpo da Cruz (Lisbon, also a member of the Sankt Gallen Group) and Severino Poletto (Turin). They called each other as “quadra,” and when the cardinals met Bergoglio in 2013 shortly after his papal election, he asked Murphy-O’Connor to gather the rest of the “quadra” for a picture.

In any event, Bergoglio and Murphy-O’Connor “have had meals together on previous occasions,” explains O'Connell in his book. At that 1 March 2013 dinner in a restaurant, they talked about “the sort of person we felt the cardinals should elect,” but they did not, according to Murphy-O’Connor's own account, then identify Bergoglio as the best candidate, and mostly so because of his advanced age. “Bergoglio never considered himself as a candidate to be pope,” the English cardinal explains three months later. However, he told O'Connell also that, after speaking with Bergoglio that night, he did come to the conclusion that “this man could be pope.” “He told me,” continues the author, “that subsequently, on occasions when he was with fellow cardinals discussing possible candidates to succeed Benedict, he introduced Bergoglio's name as a possibility, just as other cardinals suggested the names of different cardinals they thought could fill that role.”

Another person playing a somewhat important role in this time period ought to be mentioned here, as well. Andrea Tornielli – today the Pope's editorial communications director – met Bergoglio the day the prelate arrived in Rome – 27 February – for dinner at the house of some friends, as well as on the eve of the conclave, 11 March.

Tornielli also published, two days before the General Congregations, an article in the Italian newspaper La Stampa. In that article, he quotes a friend of Bergoglio as saying that “Four years of Bergoglio would [have been] sufficient to change things.” As O'Connell later reveals, another friend of Bergoglio's, Cardinal Errazuriz, happened to say exactly the same words to Mathilde Burgos, a Chilean journalist. O'Connell quotes Errazuriz' words as told to him by Burgos: “Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things!”

Pope Francis later called Errazuriz into the Council of Nine Cardinals (a position from which Errazuriz recently resigned due to accusations of his cover-up of sexual abuse.)

Tornielli, in his La Stampa article, predicted that Bergoglio would be “one of the key figures” during the upcoming conclave, even if he would not be a forerunner.

In that same article, Tornielli also quoted Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio – a friend and once a subordinate of the then-deceased Cardinal Martini – who said: “In my view the moment has come to look outside Italy and Europe and, in particular, to consider Latin America.”

Cardinal Coccopalmerio later related to O'Connell that Murphy-O’Connor himself hosted a gathering of about ten “like-minded” cardinals on 6 March at the Venerable English College in Rome. “This like-minded group”, he added, “expanded further and were maybe fifteen to twenty persons, I can't remember exactly, but there still wasn't a precise candidate.” The idea that Bergoglio would be a good candidate “was not there at the beginning but matured as the days went on,” he explained. At that gathering were also present Cardinal Kasper and another cardinal of the 2005 “quadra,” Cardinal Poletto.

Another of such gatherings was organized on behalf of Murphy-O’Connor by the British ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, on 7 March. Present were cardinals of the Commonwealth, among them Cardinals Turkson and Gracias. Bergoglio's name was mentioned, according to O'Connell, but in the end “there was still no clarity among them.”

On 5 March, during the General Congregations, it was Cardinal Walter Kasper who proposed in an interview with La Repubblica Communion for the “remarried” divorcees, and a more “horizontal” Church, adding that “the Curia must be revolutionized.” This prelate concluded with the words “nobody is to be excluded. We must be open to everyone, of whatever nationality or ecclesial geography.”

Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga is also described by O'Connell as someone “who played an important role in getting cardinals to opt for Bergoglio.”

Cardinal Karl Lehmann himself told O'Connell years later that “Bergoglio had not appeared on Lehmann's radar in the 2013 conclave until after the second ballot.”

Many of these early supporters of Bergoglio have been later called by Pope Francis to play important roles in his pontificate.

Murphy-O’Connor's further initiatives can be seen in the book's description of a meeting of sixteen English-speaking cardinals, among them also Theodore McCarrick. As Murphy-O’Connor later told O'Connell, he himself introduced the name of Bergoglio into the discussion, but the cardinals present merely “said he is a good man but there was no enthusiasm.” His advanced age was raised again.

Bergoglio's own short speech during the pre-conclave meetings made an impression upon the cardinals and seems to have increased his esteem among them. O'Connell calls this speech a “blueprint for his papacy.” Toward the end of these meetings, says the author, people started to think more seriously about electing Bergoglio.

But let us now also return to the above-mentioned “crucial meeting” at Cardinal Nicora's apartment on the eve of the conclave, on 11 March. Nicora himself had been for many years the auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Milan before coming to Rome, so he worked many years with Cardinal Martini. At this gathering, there were “around fifteen or more [cardinals] from many countries and different continents, including Roman Curia cardinals and Italians,” O'Connell explains. “All, it turned out, were supporting Bergoglio's candidacy,” he adds. Among them were Cardinals Coccopalmerio, Nicora, Kasper, Murphy-O’Connor, Maradiaga, Turkson, Gracias, and Tauran. The author continues saying: “During the meeting, each one confirmed or revealed that he had decided to support Bergoglio on the first ballot, and also mentioned other cardinals that he believed were thinking along the same lines and could vote for him then.” Coccopalmerio, keeping a tally of the promised votes, came up with “at least twenty-five votes” for Bergoglio.

As Murphy-O’Connor later told O'Connell: “It was crucial that he had that support in the first ballot.” Continues the author: “Indeed, no fewer than three participants confirmed to me that 'this was the decisive meeting.'” Cardinal Kasper, too, spoke with the book author about this crucial event, saying that only then he realized that Bergoglio had a chance: “two days before the conclave, there was a small group from different countries, not just Italians, but also some from the Vatican, and they said we should go for Bergoglio. Then it was clear for me. Beforehand it was very unsure, but his intervention in the pre-conclave meetings had been very important; his speech made a great impact.”

O'Connell relates that, according to his sources, Bergoglio was not informed about any of these pre-conclave gatherings here mentioned.

Murphy-O’Connor, who pulled many strings in the background, told O'Connor later: “The key was getting the Asians and Africans to support Bergoglio.” He added that “when the history of the conclave is written it will be shown that over the week of the General Congregations, a small minority helped lead the cardinals to understand that the front-runners (Scola, Scherrer, and Ouellet) were not the men to lead the Church at this time in history, and that the only candidate was Bergoglio.” Just before the conclave began, the English cardinal spoke with Bergoglio when coming out from St. Peter's after Mass, and after a small conversation, he told the Argentine prelate: “'Stai attento!' (Watch out!). He nodded, 'Capisco!' (I understand!).” But Murphy-O’Connor insists that nobody knew who would come out of the conclave as the new Pope. O'Connell later spoke with the English cardinal about this story as revealed by Murphy-O’Connor himself in his memoir, and the prelate then told the journalist his “impression that Bergoglio 'had accepted in his heart that he could be pope.' ” “Indeed,” the author continues, “he felt the Argentinian knew he could be elected. He revealed, moreover, that at one stage during the General Congregations, he went up to Bergoglio and said, 'I think we need this and this kind of pope.' When Bergoglio responded, 'I agree,' Murphy-O’Connor told him, “You are the man!”

Bergoglio is then quoted as saying to friends: “I never thought I would be elected.”

As it turned out, Bergoglio received 26 votes in the first ballot during that 2013 conclave, with Scola having merely four more votes. Due to the fact that the Italian episcopate – which had as a block the largest number of votes (28) – was divided over whom to elect, and due to other factors, Scola's chances were sinking. Bergoglio's candidacy, after the first encouraging ballot, kept getting stronger. By the second ballot, he had more votes than Scola (45 over 38), and then kept gaining votes until he was elected in the fifth ballot. (Please see here an excerpt of the book on the different ballots.) He received the support from a variety of countries and continents, such as Europe, Asia, and Africa. Additionally, Cardinals like Maradiaga, Gracias, Turkson, Tauran, and Kasper “did not disguise their backing for him.”

Pope Francis was later to say that his election was a “complete surprise” for him.

But when he met Murphy-O’Connor after his election, he told him: “You are the one to blame (Sei il colpevole): you told me I would be pope.”

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Maike Hickson

Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli, Catholicism.org, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana, Katholisches.info, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.